The Lavender Row
Women (and their lack of presence) in the music industry
Updated: Jul 11, 2018
Two weeks ago, I had the great opportunity, when I was invited by Hult’s global women in business club, to lead a panel discussing diversity in the music industry. I sat with five industry people, discussing the uphill battle many women and coloured people face trying to get a foot in the door.
The way we sat as a panel was in itself a reminder of the reality. In a half circle, we sat as follows (*names changed): Amy (female), Harry (black male), Trent (white male), Ally (female), Kit (black male) and myself (female). Trent had plenty of experience working with major labels and big industry names. The other panelists worked for independent labels, their own startups or minor labels.
Danish Tabloid DR: “Women snubbed at the DMAs: Men took home all the prizes” https://www.dr.dk/nyheder/kultur/musik/kvinderne-fik-lang-naese-til-danish-music-awards-maendene-tog-samtlige-priser
The panel confirmed the reality: To get into the music industry as a woman, is incredibly difficult. Especially when you don’t fit the cookie-cutter norm. While it was depressing to hear the stats, it was also re-assuring to know I’m not crazy, and that this inequality is actively taking place.
As a female artist trying to break into the Danish music industry, I was dismayed when all 12 prizes at the Danish music awards, back in November 2017, went to men. At the Grammys this year, only 17 of the 86 prizes handed out, were given to women. Of the awards televised, only one went to a woman (Alessia Cara).
Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet: “Danish Men Awards: The women were completely forgotten” https://ekstrabladet.dk/musik/dkmusiknyt/danish-men-awards-kvinderne-blev-totalt-glemt/6911642
Half an hour before the panel took place, I looked at Spotify’s hit charts for Denmark and the Global Top 50 chart. I also looked at the US iTunes store top 50 songs, and Danish iTunes store’s top 50 songs. The numbers weren’t any better there. While 15 women were featured in the top 50 on Spotify’s global playlist, 9 were featuring with a male artist. This was a reoccurring trend in the other playlists. On average women featured in just 24% of the playlists.
That’s shocking, especially for Denmark. Growing up I often thought of Denmark as a place of progressive equality. Then I moved there, and entered the music industry. And it’s just as stuck-in-the-mud as the rest of the industry.
I read a Danish article defending the DMAs, saying that female musicians don’t take enough risks. That’s interesting, because if you go through the top Danish songs occupying the charts, most the songs resemble each other. In fact, below is a screenshot of Denmark’s Top 50 Spotify Chart.
No women are in the top 10 (note how the first glimpse of a female artist is Cardi B and she’s featuring on a Bruno Mars track). The following Danish artists featured in the top 10 are:
Gili - Langsom
ZK - ZUM ZUM
Sivas - Sidste Time
NODE - JVB
KESI - Ligesom Mig
All are male rap artists. If you listen to the songs, they are all quite similar with heavy auto-tune vocals. How is that original and/or risk taking? This is not to say that the songs aren’t good, or aren’t catchy, but they certainly don’t do anything risky. It seems like record labels have found a formula that works, and they are sticking to it. Unfortunately, this formula isn’t very inclusive.
Rolling Stones reporting on the Grammys: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/grammys-disappointing-night-for-women-w516065
Another argument I’ve heard, is that female artists didn’t produce any new material, thus couldn’t be nominated. You can’t take that at face value. The industry is awash with artists trying desperately to get heard. And amongst those artists, a lot of female artists. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the music industry, like any other industry, is cluttered with mediocre talent. But I refuse to believe that there aren’t talented women in the music industry who are eager to be signed and have their material produced. The lack of material from female artists, in my opinion, is an issue rooted in record labels not signing and/or giving enough attention to female artists.
So what does all this mean? Well, there is blatantly an inequality issue. A word that came up a few times throughout the panel, and one that I’ve heard a lot in tandem with getting into any industry, is “gatekeepers”. A form of gatekeepers are CEOs of record labels. Generate a quick google search of that, and what do you get? A list of primarily white middle-aged men.
Google Search: “CEOs of Record Labels” https://www.google.co.uk/search?rlz=1C5CHFA_enGB778GB778&ei=hXV4WtWROsSmwQLzoIfADQ&q=ceo+of+record+labels&oq=ceo+of+record+labels&gs_l=psy-ab.3..0i71k1l4.1641.1641.0.17220.127.116.11.0.0.0.0.0..0.0....0...1c.1.64.psy-ab..1.0.0....0.srZRTDd0FtI
I’m not a man hater. I love my brother, I love my dad, I love my uncles and my grandpa, my cousins and my male friends. I have deep respect for many male professionals But this is still a man’s world. I’ve met so many incredible women who are trying to carve out a way for other women, but we can’t do this without the help and acknowledgement from men. I don’t think these gatekeepers intentionally exclude women; I think they merely forget to be inclusive. Education about women’s challenges in the workplace needs to be taught not just to women, but men as well.
As the panel wrapped up, the panelists were asked what advice they would give to individuals, seeking a career in the music industry:
“Leadership starts with yourself. Be a sponge, don’t be offended by other people’s opinions.”
“Just be good”
And my personal favourite:
“Be yourself. Acknowledge the value in yourself.”
As a woman entering the music industry, I think it’s easy to start doubting your music and your worth. But it’s important to remind yourself of the good that has happened along the way, and the positive encouragement from other musicians.
I’m hopeful about the future for women in the music industry. With persistence, I am positive that one day when we google “CEOs of record labels”, there will be pictures of women, and female artists will have as much of a chance of winning a grammy.....and I a DMA ;-)
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